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The Buddha Tree

    Virupa is responsible for the origin and transmission of many important Vajrayana 
teachings. He was a professor at Nalanda University, where he taught philosophy all day and practiced Vajrayana all night. He practiced for years and recited thousands of mantras without success. Finally, he got fed up and threw his rosary into a latrine. The next night, while Virupa was sleeping, a vision of Nairatmya, a goddess of insubstantiality, appeared before him and told him that he had been reciting the mantra of the wrong deity. The next day Virupa retrieved his rosary from the latrine and went back to the Vajrayana, reciting and practicing the meditation on the Goddess Nairatmya. He achieved success in his practice and left his professorial post, wandering as a naked yogi throughout India.

    Three important things are said of Virupa: he is said to have stopped the flow of the Ganges River so that he might cross it; to have drunk wine for three days nonstop in a wine shop; and to have held the sun immobile in the sky all the while. What do these feats mean? Stopping the flow of the Ganges means stopping the river of the afflictions, breaking the cycle of birth and death. Drinking wine for three days means enjoying the supreme bliss of emancipation. Holding the sun immobile in the sky means holding the light of the mind in the sky of omniscience.

    In the biographies of Virupa, we have an indication of the premium that the Vajrayana places on experiential or direct knowledge. Virupa was a professor at Nalanda University, but that was not enough. In addition to the knowledge he acquired through study, he had to acquire direct, immediate knowledge in order to realize the truth for himself. The same theme is evident in the biography of Naropa, who was also a professor at  Nalanda. One day, while he was sitting in his cell surrounded by his books, an old woman appeared and asked him whether he understood the letter of the teaching contained in all his books. Naropa replied that he did. The woman was very pleased and then asked whether he understood the spirit of the teaching as well. Naropa thought that since she had been so pleased with his earlier answer, he would reply that he also understood the spirit of the teaching contained in the books. But the old woman then became angry, and said that although the first time he had told the truth, the second time he had lied. The old woman was Vajravarahi, another goddess of insubstantiality. As a consequence of the disclosure that he did not understand the spirit of what he had read, Naropa, too, left his professorial post and went forth as a seeker of the truth.


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